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Origins of "the green man"


Although the classic EXIT sign is everywhere in the United States, in many other countries, it's considered an anomaly. Why use a word when a pictograph might convey the same thing more quickly, and why risk confusing an audience that may not speak English? Why use red (a color universally associated with “stop”) for a sign that means "go here?"

These objections led the International Standards Organization to issue a challenge to graphic designers everywhere: the world needed a universally recognizable symbol demarcating exits. After rigorous trials to establish the sign’s visibility in bad conditions, Japanese designer Yukio Ota won the day with his "green man."

According to Julia Turner at Slate, Ota is an ardent internationalist who believes in the power of symbols to unite people – he even designed a system called LoCoS, a set of easily understood pictographs for lovers who don’t share a language.

Ota's design was guided by the need for simplicity, immediate comprehensibility, and enough contrast to be visible in very low light, and in all of these ways, the green man is an unqualified success as a piece of modern graphic design, so much so that it’s been adopted as the standard EXIT icon in New York City's high-rise buildings.

 

 
Fire Exit Signs
The lack of a visible door was a deliberate choice – critics inside the ISO felt that the door in a similar design made the image's meaning less clear.
 
Main Entrance Signs
Illuminated Exit Signs
The lack of a visible door was a deliberate choice – critics inside the ISO felt that the door in a similar design made the image's meaning less clear.